Courtship then followed certain set rules. It relied mainly on direct interpersonal relations and interaction. Because telephone lines were few, direct person-to-person communication was the preferred mode of courtship. But it was never easy.
The rule was simple: if you wanted to win a young woman's heart to become your girlfriend, wife or whatever, you had to find ways to introduce yourself, gain her trust and confidence, and take your chances to get her sweet “yes.” Again, this was not easy. It was tedious and laborious.
I remember resorting to the usual “dalaw,” or regular visits to my first girlfriend. It was in the summer of 1968, when I introduced myself to a comely neighbor, who lived a dozen houses away from us on the busy street of Asuncion in Tondo.
She was tall and bosomy for her age; she had glistening brown skin and a pair of smiling eyes. With enough swagger, I introduced myself to her. I was only 14, but I felt like I owned the world since I was already cut and had my own bleeding rite three summers before.
Immediately after my self-introduction, I visited her almost daily at their house. Her parents were not around because of work, but her older siblings allowed my presence – or intrusion. They seemed to like me. I remember taking a bath and combing my hair before my daily visits.
I wore my clothes as if I was a grownup man, or “binatang taring” as the old Tagalogs would say. Because, I did not have many clothes during those days, I wore my white polo shirt, which I also used as school uniform. In hindsight, I looked like a choir boy, with a perfect look to win a young woman's heart.
It was a brief summer fling, a case of momentary infatuation or “puppy love” that was not meant to become a full-blown romance. The heavy school workload took a toll on us; we got busy and never resumed contact. We both did not have telephones at home, which was a factor for the loss of love.
We later left Tondo to settle elsewhere. But when I visited my relatives there nearly a decade ago, I saw my puppy love, already a public school teacher, walking on the street to go home. No, she did not look “ballenic” (or scandalously fat); she was slim with her bright brown skin. But she was with two little kids, who, I was told, were her grandkids. She was already a full-pledged lola, or grandma.
I was 16 and in fourth year high school when I started doing regular “dalaw” (visits) to my first love, a young lady, who was a trophy by all standards. I met her in late November 1970 in a dance party at the house of a common friend in Quezon City. Again, I introduced myself and formed a one-man barricade (or "bakod") on her. It was a glorious conquest, as I was the only guy whom she danced with all night, to her and the other guys’ discomfiture.
I did the “ligaw Intsik” (Chinese courtship), arriving at 2 p.m. every Sunday at their house in a middle-class subdivision in Quezon City and leaving by dinnertime, at 7 p.m. Because of my persistence, she rewarded me with her sweet yes. But it was a romance that was again not meant to be. The lure of political activism did not spare me; “Inang Bayan” had snatched me from her.
There were no bitter fights or recriminations between us; ours was a case of two people on the wrong pages. We parted ways with regrets in my heart. She is now a registered nurse in the United States.
It took me some time to court other ladies. I usually went out with friends to visit some ladies in certain dormitories in the University Belt area. Later, I learned to make “sundo,” (fetching), wherein I took some lady friends to certain destinations, usually schools or homes. They were perfect occasions for conversations.
But communications were problematic during those days. We didn’t have enough telephone lines so there were no follow-ups. Making appointments was difficult too.
Hence, I always ended up as “na-indiyan” (when the lady did not appear), or “nang-indiyan” (when I did not appear). There were also times when "parehong nang-indiyan" (neither appeared); it was technically a draw. (Later, I wondered why we use the term “indiyan” for the irresponsible habit of non-appearance at an appointed time and place. The Indians did us no wrong.)
Hatid, or literally to accompany her home, was my strategy to show my interest to a damsel, who was not necessarily in distress. It was a perfect way to communicate with her.
Since I usually took night classes in college, I did this strategy with scintillating success, as I took home my classmates, who were objects of my interest. For them, I was nagmamagandang loob (being chivalrous), but I was a vulture with an ulterior motive.
Doing "hatid" was a perfect opportunity to communicate what was inside a man's heart. But it also had its pitfalls. At one point I made "hatid" to one of the school librarians, who took notice of me because I was always in the library.
Her shift ended at 6 p.m., but before we got to her house we would detour to St. Jude's Church, where we attended a novena and smelled burning incense. It became a practice every Thursday for the next four or five weeks. I kidded her that it was fine with me so long as we did not go to Baclaran Church.
"I was planning that we go there," she said. No, don’t, I told her. Why, she asked. "Baka tayo lumampas sa langit" (We might overshoot Heaven), I said in jest. I could not imagine attending two different novenas on two consecutive days every week.
One time, I took her home only to be greeted by her three brothers, who were having a drinking spree. They harassed me by asking about my intentions on their sister. I told them I had no bad intentions, which they did not believe anyway. It was the last time I saw her.
A few months later, I was told that she had married a drug salesman of uncommon ugliness. Whether they lived happily ever after, I do not know.
Comparing my personal experiences with today’s courtship practices, I could say that nothing beats personal interaction.
All those person-to-person conversations remain incomparable because of their intimacy and passion.
I still favor and prefer the old-fashioned ways.
I rest my case.
Philip M. Lustre Jr. is a veteran journalist, whose career spans four decades. He worked as reporter for foreign news organizations and local newspapers. He also wrote opinion pieces for local publications. He now does freelance writing, mostly book projects.
More from Philip M. Lustre, Jr.